Consolidating Harford County's multiple water resources into one jointly owned and operated system could save money, increase the supply and help ensure that growth is directed to areas with public utilities, said County Executive David R. Craig.
County and municipal officials are considering pooling their water resources and will meet March 10 to explore the possibility of creating a regional water authority.
If the proposal, floated by Craig in a recent speech to the Chamber of Commerce, moves forward, it must win approval of the county's three municipalities, which each rely on their systems.
Craig, who created a Water Advisory Board nearly two years ago, said the time has come to knock down barriers among suppliers.
"The efficiency will allow us to keep growth in the development envelope, provide the needed water and hold down costs," he said.
Bill Walsh, president of Maryland American Water, a private company that supplies about 5,000 homes in the Bel Air area, said the proposal makes sense in outlining the future of water for the growing county.
"There are many models that can be examples," he said.
Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne H. Dougherty said he will wait to hear the full proposal before forming an opinion.
"It is definitely premature for me to make a judgment," Dougherty said.
He questions the benefit of a regional system for his city, which has the Susquehanna River at its doorstep and a treatment plant that can handle as much as 4 million gallons a day.
"I won't say we have nothing to gain, until I hear all the details," Dougherty said. "I want to know what is the impact to the city. We have control of our water now, and we are well covered. We have everything we need right here with no transmission problems. Our rates are reasonable, compared to others in the county. "
He is also concerned about the need, cost and location of a new treatment plant. The county recently purchased 70 acres adjacent to its Abingdon Water Treatment Plant and announced plans for an expansion that will allow the facility to process 20 million gallons daily, twice the current capacity.
The centrally located property offers enough space to house additional equipment that could extend the daily capacity to 40 million gallons.
Aberdeen, which has nearly reached its daily water capacity, must find more resources, if it is to grow and meet the demands of BRAC, the nationwide military expansion coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"This is an intriguing concept that definitely warrants study," said Aberdeen Mayor Michael Bennett. "We are right at capacity now with little wiggle room."
The city is reviewing several options, including a proposal for a desalinization plant that would treat water from the Chesapeake Bay.
"We have to do something yesterday," Bennett said. "We want to make the best choice for the city's next 20 years, so we can allow more development and get ready for BRAC."
Bennett plans to attend the session with the county executive and a March 12 water summit that the Maryland Department of the Environment is sponsoring at the HEAT Center, on Technology Drive in the city.
Harford needs a stable, long-term plan for its water supply, said Bel Air Mayor Robert M. Preston. He would favor consolidation as long as the authority attends to zoning issues.
"I would not be opposed to a water review board that would oversee development so that we are not allowing the wrong type of usage," he said.
He would push for stronger land protections and more stringent review of development in the watershed surrounding Winter's Run, the source of the town's supply.
Preston would also like to pursue the possibility of Maryland American becoming the county's water provider.
"A private business might provide more scrutiny in the cost savings area," he said. "I would rather see a private company with government imposed parameters. There would be an economy of scale."
The company has decades of experience creating regional systems and would like to be involved, Walsh said.
"Water issues are broader than any one jurisdiction," Walsh said. "They follow watersheds, not political boundaries. Regional solutions are important because you are pulling a lot of expertise and resources to solve your problems."